Having written about female altar servers on my other blog, I guess it's my day to say super-controversial things. I don't think I would have the guts to do this if I were still in theology school. At theology school, I was considered a controversialist merely because I brought up the right to life of the unborn. I would not at all remember that episode if a male classmate hadn't come up to me afterwards and said, in hushed tones, how much he had admired my courage.
Although I had dimly heard a few middle-aged female sighs and clucks behind me, I wasn't sure what he was talking about.
"If I can't say that in a Roman Catholic theological college, where can I say it?" I demanded.
Ah ha ha ha. Since then I have discovered that just saying, "Gosh, you know, I just love the Holy Father" is incredible provocation at many Roman Catholic theological colleges, a social solecism capable of making skins flush and eyes bug.
So what the heck. Today I am going to contemplate a little longer modern woman's idea that if she is excluded from some male activity, she will implode and die.
I'm not talking about the professions here--at least, the professions that don't take brute strength, or the ones that make a lot of money. Incidentally, I wonder how much bus drivers make because I had to go to the bus depot last week, and I was staggered by the maleness of it all. Forty white men in burgundy jackets were standing around watching other white men in burgundy jackets playing billiards in this massive hangar. Only the absence of cigarette smoke prevented me from thinking I had fallen into 1949. I felt like a drop of ink in a glass of water, which I think is a fair description of what happens when a girl serves at a TLM. No matter how much she tries to efface herself, everyone who sees her will think, "OMG! It's a GIRL!" Her presence insinuates itself everywhere, distracting everybody.
(So, incidentally, did the presence of a male poet at an otherwise all-female poetry party I helped organize. He was so intimidated that he read his most offensive poems which led to most of the other women being too scared to read their own poems.)
But as I said, I'm not thinking about the professions here because a lot of women have to support ourselves financially, and we should have a chance to do it. If the best jobs around are blue-collar trades, then for heaven's sake, train the women to lay pipe or whatever and set us to it. If women are actually good at our jobs, most men admire us for it. What they hate is having to pretend that women who are lousy at our jobs are actually good at them. They don't pretend this way for other men, so why pretend for women?
After work, however, if men want to do stuff on their own, they should be allowed to do it. And since I draw a line between the sacred and the secular, I am happy (indeed insistent) that in the ritual realm men do traditional men's stuff, and women do traditional women's stuff. I exulted, in a two-student theological seminar, when I got the answer right and the future Father Something, S.J. got the answer wrong, but I would be happy to allow Father Something S.J. to go up the steps of the altar, while I knelt in a pew. In fact, if he learned the Extraordinary Form, I would dance a jig of glee.
I think men should have a space to be men doing men's stuff without women around helping them. There is both a public and a personal dimension to all this. The public dimension includes groups of men doing things that, by their very nature, must be all-male. The most obvious example is the Manchester United men's football team.
Obviously we take the Manchester United men's football team very seriously indeed, for they have not been forced to include women on the squad. Indeed, to my knowledge no other men's football team has been forced to include women on their rosters. Most other professions demanding brute strength and athletic skill--the military, the police, the fire brigade--have caved in and accepted the women who can pass the newly established women's physical. However, nobody takes the military, the police or the fire brigade as seriously as Manchester United takes Manchester United.
Another example is the Anglican men's scholas and boys' choirs. Men's scholas and boys' choirs are ancient English (and Scottish) traditions. Not all boys in Britain can play football, and some of them can sing. So for generations they happily signed onto the ancient brotherhood to sing with other boys and then, when their voices broke (apparently a traumatic event akin to a particularly nasty coming-of-age ritual), they went into the men's scholas.
Men often need to be included of groups of men to feel that they are men; this is very hard for women to understand because we just know we are women--we don't need other women's say-so. However men are not women, and they need other men to make them men, and apparently they lost something profound when the boys' choirs began to accept girls and the men's scholas took on women. Good-bye, men's traditions. Good-bye.
In the private realm also, men wish space in which to be men. In this they seem to have something in common with other male creatures. Consider the peacock, trying to impress a peahen. The peahen, like many other female birds, dresses quietly, like a lady, in protective 1990s colours of biscuit, brown and cream. The peacock, however, has a massive tail of amazing colours which he unfurls before the peahen, parading about saying, in peacock language, "Look at me! Am I not amazing? Am I not beautiful? Would I not make an excellent husband, father and provider? Come live with me and be my love and we shall all pleasures prove."
The peahen stands well out of the way of his tail and decides whether or not to succumb to his charms. What she does not do is stand right up close to him so that he never has a chance to unfurl his tail. Nor does she rush off and collect a bunch of fallen feathers to make her own tail which which to impress him.
"Let HIM talk," said an older female friend when I told her of an upcoming date.
She sounded almost agonized.
"What?" I said.
"Let HIM talk," she repeated. "You need to give him a chance to shine."
I felt a bit miffed because if there's anything a person who talks too much hates, it's being told he or she talks too much. But actually that was very good advice, not that I ever consciously took it. No. It is possible that I am married to B.A. only because I had very bad jet lag. I don't talk much when I have jet lag. I sit like a lump and listen to other people talk.
I also don't talk much early in the morning, and indeed I don't have much tolerance for people who do. However, I school myself in patience, sit like a lump and listen.
I also don't talk much around virtual strangers, nor do I talk much to readers at first. Readers usually have something to tell me, and they already know all about me, so I sit like a lump and listen.
When I met B.A.--who, like all his friends, loves to talk--I had jet lag, I saw him often in the mornings, he was a virtual stranger who kept introducing me to other strangers, and he was a reader. I didn't exactly sit like a lump, but I certainly listened. As a result, I let him talk, and now sometimes I get a word in edgewise, especially when I arise from the dinner table and take any women guests to the sitting room.
I fear this post, too, has run away with me. Well, angel-pumpkins, what I am trying to say is that you will not implode and die if you permit men to have their space. If they find something good in traditional, respectable all-male activities, that may help them flourish, and it is not a threat to you. If they show any kind of romantic interest in you, it is a good idea to stand back and give them the space they think they need to win you over. Don't disappoint the dear souls.